As you probably know, traffic accidents remain a leading cause of death and serious injuries. About 30,000 people are killed in traffic collisions each year in this country, and approximately two million of us are seriously injured each year in crashes. Many are permanently disabled. It’s an undeniable fact that negligent and distracted driving play some part in almost every vehicle accident.
Distracted driving can be characterized as driving while you’re also involved in some other activity like talking or texting on your cell phone, tending to pets or children, applying make-up, eating, or reading. These kinds of behavior take a motorist’s focus off the road, endangering the motorist, innocent bystanders, passengers, and those traveling in other vehicles. Massachusetts law entitles anyone injured by a negligent driver to complete reimbursement for any medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages resulting from such an accident.
WHAT ARE MASSACHUSETTS LAWMAKERS CONSIDERING?
In response to the dangers of distracted driving, the Massachusetts Senate this summer has approved legislation that would make this state’s drivers refrain from talking or texting on a cell phone while driving. Drivers would only be allowed to talk on a cell phone if they are using hands-free technology. The proposal, S.2093, passed the state’s Senate on a voice vote. As of mid-August, it must still be passed by the Massachusetts House and signed by Governor Charlie Baker to become law.
In fact, the legislation may or may not be law by the time you read this. Seth Gitell, a spokesperson for Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, would not tell the Boston Globe if the House will or will not vote on the proposal in this session. Billy Pitman, a spokesperson for Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, said Baker “will carefully review any final legislation reaching the governor’s desk.”
Massachusetts banned texting while driving in 2010. However, Senator Mark Montigny of New Bedford reports that police officers have told him the law is virtually useless. Texting on a cell phone is banned but talking is not, so drivers who are pulled over simply tell the police they were dialing rather than texting. Senator Montigny tells the Boston Globe that law enforcement believes the 2010 law “absolutely tied one hand behind their backs.”
WHAT ARE THE DETAILS OF THE NEW PROPOSAL?
The Senate proposal explicitly prohibits motorists from using their fingers to type addresses into mapping apps and GPS systems, although drivers could still display those apps to aid with navigation. Under the proposal, drivers could use their hands for “a single tap or swipe” to start or end hands-free calls or to activate GPS programs. But Massachusetts motorists would be subject to a citation for even holding cell phones close to their heads or in their laps.
If S.2093 becomes Massachusetts law, what will be the penalties for a violation? The penalties that are now in place for texting while driving would be applied. The fine would be $100 for a first violation, $250 for a second offense, and $500 for a third infraction. A third or subsequent violation could also raise a driver’s insurance rates. The proposal allows exceptions for drivers to use cell phones in emergency situations.
Texting while you drive is possibly the most hazardous distracted driving behavior. According to AAA, texting causes “cognitive” driver distraction, because it takes your eyes off the road, at least one hand off the wheel, and your concentration off of your driving. A vehicle moving at 60 miles per hour covers the distance of a football field in less than 1.5 seconds, so taking your focus off the road for a mere moment to send or read a text message can have truly disastrous consequences.
WHAT ARE THE VICTIMS OF NEGLIGENCE ENTITLED TO BY LAW?
In Massachusetts, distracted driving causes far too many fatalities and catastrophic injuries. Auto insurance rates are sky-high and climbing, due to a great extent to distracted driving. If another driver’s carelessness injures you in this state, you are entitled in Massachusetts to complete reimbursement for all of your lost income, medical expenses, and all other injury-related damages. However, you must prove that your injury was the result of the other motorist’s negligence, and for that, you’ll need the help of an experienced Boston personal injury attorney.
If you’re injured in an accident with a driver who was texting or with any motorist who was driving negligently, don’t even speak with an insurance company before consulting a personal injury attorney. The other driver’s insurer may offer a settlement worth far less than the true value of your claim. Don’t settle for it. Let a Boston personal injury attorney negotiate on your behalf. Injury claims are almost always settled out-of-court, but for every claim, an injury victim will need legal advice specific to his or her own case and situation.
Cell phone records may sometimes become evidence in personal injury cases. If a driver injured you, and you know or suspect that driver was talking or texting on a cell phone at the time, explain that to your attorney. In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims in most cases is three years, but if you’ve been injured, you really do need to speak swiftly with an attorney. Evidence disappears or deteriorates and witnesses forget, so you must put a personal injury attorney to work on your case promptly.
Boston personal injury attorney Eric J. Parker reminds us it’s a “mistaken belief that ‘distracted driving’ is about texting alone. It goes way beyond texting, especially for young drivers. Young drivers all too frequently choose their music on their iPhones while driving or selects playlists. This can be hugely distracting. Another distraction common to all ages is ‘Waze’ [a popular traffic and navigation app], and is particularly distracting where the driver does not have a reliable phone holder and instead tends to hold the phone on her lap, causing her eyes to be diverted downward instead of where they should be directed, namely the road.”
Even in the states where all cell phone use while driving is already illegal, laws and courts are only one part of the solution to distracted driving. The other part of the solution is up to individual drivers. Here’s how you can eliminate potential distractions while you drive: Don’t text, groom, eat, or talk on your cell phone. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t drive while using intoxicating drugs, not even prescriptions from your doctor. Don’t let pets, children, the radio, or even a billboard distract you.
Focus only on driving and on the traffic around you. Of course, the only driver you can improve is you. If you are injured by another driver, legal help is available and taking legal action is your right. An experienced injury attorney will give injury victims honest and candid legal advice, and if you have grounds for legal action, your attorney will aggressively fight for the justice you seek and the compensation you deserve.